Cold weather and heart attack: Reasons and prevention


The people at high risk of heart attack and their caregivers must know the common symptoms of a heart attack.

By Dr. Naveen Chandra,

There are increased cases of a heart attack during winter. It is necessary to take preventive measures in winters, especially for people at high risk of developing a heart attack. Here are the reasons and ways to prevent heart attack during winter.

WHAT COLD WEATHER DOES TO YOUR HEART?

The body undergoes several physiological alterations to adjust to the cold weather. Cold weather affects heart health in several ways. Some of them are:

· Increased heart load: The body needs a continuous supply of blood to keep the tissues warm. It results in an increased load on the heart. Further, cold weather also results in constriction of arteries. Thus, the heart needs to work more to circulate the blood. Excessive load on the heart may result in a heart attack.

· Constriction in arteries: Coronary arteries supply blood and essential nutrient to the heart. During winter, like other arteries, the coronary artery also constricts. It results in a poor supply of blood to the heart. Functional cardiac overload coupled with interrupted cardiac blood supply may cause a heart attack.

· High blood volume: There is an increase in overall blood volume during winters. In summer, there is a loss of almost 200-250 ml of fluid through sweat. However, there is no such loss in winter. It increases blood volume and hence, blood pressure. Further, sweating also reduces the concentration of salt (sodium) inside the body, which does not happen in winter. This further increases blood pressure. High blood pressure leads to a heart attack.

· Fluid overload: People with left ventricular dysfunction are at high risk of fluid overload in winter. It may result in a heart attack.

· Other factors: Other factors that play a crucial role in developing heart attack during winter include hormonal variations and an increased tendency of clot formation. Increase in clotting factors, fibrinogen during winter which enhances the chances of clot formation. Not only heart attacks are high but also mortality during winter is also high (winter myocardial infarction) don’t usually do well

WHO ARE AT INCREASED RISK?

Some people are at high risk of developing heart attacks during winter. These include:

· Older people: Older people are at risk for developing a heart attack during winter because of their inability to cope with the falling temperature. Older people have less muscle mass which makes them less tolerable to cold temperatures.

· People with a history of cardiovascular disease: People with a history of heart attack, cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, and high cholesterol levels are at risk of developing a heart attack in winters.

· Smokers and Alcoholics: Smoking reduces the flexibility of the arteries. Alcohol increases blood supply to the skin and takes away the heat from other organs.

· People living a sedentary lifestyle: Obese and physically inactive people are at risk of developing heart attack during winter.

SIGNS OF HEART ATTACK

The people at high risk of heart attack and their caregivers must know the common symptoms of a heart attack. It will help in providing immediate medical treatment to the patient. Some of the common heart attack symptoms include:

· Pain or discomfort in the chest,

· Pain in the jaw, arms, and neck,

· Shortness of breath,

· Dizziness,

· Sweating,

· Heartburn or indigestion,

· Fatigue.

WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF A HEART ATTACK?

If the patient thinks that he suffered a heart attack, he should follow the below measures:

· Call immediately for medical help,

· Take aspirin if you are not allergic to it to reduce heart damage,

· Take nitroglycerin if prescribed by your doctor

· If the patient is unconscious, the caregiver should give CPR or may use an automated external defibrillator, if available,

· Sit down, rest, and wait for an ambulance to arrive.

PREVENTING HEART ATTACK DUE TO COLD WEATHER

Several ways may help in reducing the risk of a heart attack during winter. Some of them are:

· Reduce exposure to cold: Step out in cold weather only if needed. When you move outside, cover your body with multi-layer clothing and wear shoes and warm socks.

· Avoid overheating: Do not overheat yourself by performing physical activity in warm clothes. It may result in sudden blood vessel dilation resulting in hypotension.

· Avoid excessive exertion: Do not perform excessive physical activity as it may negatively affect the heart.

· Get flu vaccine: People are at high risk of getting flu during winters. It is harmful to cardiac health. People should get a flu vaccine to prevent the flu.

· Avoid alcohol: Alcohol withdraws the heat from the internal organs and supplies it to the skin to keep the body warm. People should avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.

· Undergo schedule health check-ups: Everybody should undergo a regular cardiac check-up even if there is no prior history of cardiovascular diseases.

(The author is Consultant –Interventional Cardiologist at Manipal Hospital Varthur Road. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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